“To care for, develop and enhance the quality of life, with love and understanding from a dedicated staff, persons with intellectual disability of all races and creeds entrusted to us, by providing with trust in Divine Providence and in co-operation with the parents, the community and the State the necessary spiritual, nursing, therapy and stimulation services in as an efficient and economic manner as possible.” – The Little Eden Mission
Little Eden is an orphanage for children with disabilities. This is all I knew before we visited the establishment. I initially expected it to be a small, run down building with little resources and staff. This was not the case at all. There were several different wings with staff walking around everywhere. They had hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, music therapy, reflexology and more. Nichollette was dressed professionally and gave us a tour of the premises and explained what Little Eden was.
Little Eden was founded by Domitilla and Daniel Hyams in 1967. It houses individuals with disabilities ranging from the ages of three to sixty-three. The individuals were either born with the mental disability, had an accident, or were abused. Many had fetal alcohol syndrome, which shows the heavy dependence on alcohol some may have due to their living conditions. Out of about 300 children, about 75% are completely abandoned with no families or home. This was extremely disheartening to me, and I wondered if the reason they were abandoned were because they were seen as worthless, or if they were too expensive or needed too much attention their parents couldn’t give. Nichollette also explained how different wings housed different individuals based in their mental age and functioning:
The Yellow wing currently houses children aged three to twenty eight. Their mental functioning is compared to a newborn’s.
The Orange wing currently houses children aged ten to fifty. This wing is based on behavior, where over stimulation can lead to aggressiveness. There is a mixture of mental ages with the youngest at two years old. This housed males only.
The Purple wing was the same as the orange however it housed females only.
The Red wing currently houses based on medical need and treatment. Some stay in this wing, or come in only for certain medical needs.
Now I’ll talk about how I felt at Little Eden. At first I felt overwhelmed and upset by the amount of children there and by their conditions.
Then I realized how lucky they were to be in this amazing place as opposed to on the streets or even being killed because of their conditions. I absolutely loved interacting with the children.
Being a physical therapy student and working with children with and without disabilities for the past five summers made me feel very comfortable and right at home as I interacted with some of them.
When we first walked into the room to play with the children, everyone seemed hesitant, however I jumped right in. I walked over to a little boy on a small rocking horse that looked like he was about three or four. He didn’t pay attention to me at first, but when I bent down he looked at my face with a blank stare, then immediately smiled and grabbed my face. We sat there for two minutes while he examined my face (and pulled my hair) before we got up and walked around the room together.
Little Eden was an eye-opening experience for me as it showed me what type of patients I could potentially be dealing with. I also was amazed at how Little Eden relies on donations, and the Hyams family runs this place with the vision that children should receive this care regardless of the color of their skin. I hope I have the chance to come back!
The Voortrekker Monument
After Little Eden, we visited the Voortrekker Monument. The Voortrekkers moved north into South Africa to escape British rule. The monument was built to remember this movement and the Afrikaaners who made this trek through South Africa.
Our tour guide, Emma greeted us and gave us some background on the movement and the monument. The most interesting part was hearing an Afrikaans view of apartheid and blacks. Emma seemed uncomfortable about talking about apartheid and the role she played as a white person in South Africa at that time. I think she was trying hard not to say the wrong thing and to come off as racist to us. It is interesting to interact with multiple people of different races and to compare their views of modern South Africa as well as its history to each other’s.